It’s April 9, and a sev­enth grader from the James P. Tim­ilty Middle School in Boston’s Rox­bury neigh­bor­hood is standing on a rotating plat­form on the third floor of Northeastern’s Snell Engi­neering building holding onto a spin­ning bicycle wheel. “When you take physics later,” says Yoshua Rozen, E’18, “you’ll learn all about the con­ser­va­tion of angular momentum.”

Rozen is a first-​​year elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering stu­dent, and today is a learning expe­ri­ence for him too. For the final project of his engi­neering design class, he and his peers have been tasked with cre­ating pro­to­type museum exhibits to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex engi­neering topics to younger students.

Bev­erly Kris Jaeger, a senior aca­d­emic spe­cialist in the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering, has taught sev­eral iter­a­tions of the course since joining the North­eastern fac­ulty in 2001.

Nor­mally, we would say, ‘Develop a design to help a person get from her wheel­chair to her car,’ or ‘make the subway system greener,’” she explains. “In past years, we’ve had projects for which the stu­dents are just given a problem state­ment. More recently, we’ve been advancing the ser­vice ele­ment along with the tech­nical rigor. Here they’re given a con­di­tion and are encour­aged to think across sys­tems and populations.”

A radio-controlled, solar-powered car, sporting a regenerative motor on the front left wheel, was on display as first-year engineering students presented their team-based final projects. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

A radio-​​controlled, solar-​​powered car, sporting a regen­er­a­tive motor on the front left wheel, was on dis­play as first-​​year engi­neering stu­dents pre­sented their team-​​based final projects. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

The stu­dents had to pick two rel­a­tively advanced tech­nolo­gies or engi­neering prin­ci­ples that work together in real-​​world appli­ca­tions and research them deeply to develop their own tech­nical exper­tise. Then they were required to engi­neer a multi-​​part inter­ac­tive exhibit to effec­tively convey those con­cepts to the middle school stu­dents, who were vis­iting as part of the Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion’s field trip series.

I def­i­nitely learned a lot about the engi­neering process from the class and the project,” says Michaela Toland, a first-​​year chem­ical engi­neering major. “I think I’ll be using what we learned in this class for a very long time.”

Toland’s team focused on alter­na­tive ener­gies. The stu­dents’ exhibit included a video on green­house gases, a group-​​designed model of a solar car that gen­er­ates its own elec­tricity, and a game for stu­dents to learn about nuclear, wind, and solar energy.

Another team explored the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between analog and dig­ital music, while yet another designed a mobile eye-​​tracking device that helps people nav­i­gate their wheelchairs.

All exhibits were designed to demon­strate the under­lying prin­ci­ples of engi­neering, engage the middle school audi­ence, and pos­sess inter­ac­tive and edu­ca­tional com­po­nents. Jaeger guided the stu­dents in engi­neering the ergonomics, timing, flow, and self-​​testing ele­ments of each exhibit to con­sider the expe­ri­ence from the target users’ perspective.

Most of the teams were inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, with stu­dents from var­ious majors working together to tackle their project from dif­ferent angles. In essence, the course gave the under­grad­u­ates a glimpse of what it’s really like to be an engi­neer. “We were all really dif­ferent, but all of our ideas came together,” says Dion Duran, a first-​​year civil and envi­ron­mental engi­neering major. “It was hard to get every­thing to work at first, but once we got the ball rolling, we worked really well together and we were extremely efficient.”

First-year engineering students in an engineering design course presented their team-based final projects, which included creating prototype museum exhibits to communicate complex engineering topics to younger students. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

First-​​year engi­neering stu­dents in an engi­neering design course pre­sented their team-​​based final projects, which included cre­ating pro­to­type museum exhibits to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex engi­neering topics to younger stu­dents. Photo by Brooks Canaday.